Tag: coming soon

Love Summer Romance? Get ready for ONE SULTRY DAY

Another new book from me? Two in one week? Well, this one is in the early stages. This week my publisher is revealing the cover and blurb information.

I’ve always been a fan of summer romance. Last year, I got a great idea for a “meet cute” while I was hiking with my best friend from high school. She’ll be shocked to discover I’ve dedicated this story to her, I’m sure.

What? You don’t know what a meet cute is? That’s when the two individuals who will fall in love in the book (story) first meet.

If you’ve read my other stories, here are some examples. It’s when Ashlyn hit Dylan with her car (“Dream Architect” in the ACCIDENTAL VALENTINE anthology). For Marcus and Ronnie in the Virtual Match novellas, it’s when they first meet in the coffee shop. (“That geek is the one sending me those too hot to handle texts and emails?”)

Anyway, enough about this subject. You’re all here to see the amazing cover and hear about the new stories.

Roane Publishing proudly presents:

ONE SULTRY DAY – A Sweet Romance Anthology

Featuring FOUR summer romances by FOUR different authors

Buy it at your favorite online retailer August 6, 2018

Blurbs

Escorts for Hire – Heartaches for Free by Deryn Pittar

University drop-out and current barista, Sandi Fletcher-Bain upgrades to a position as a quality controller for a new agency established by her friend Jess. An agency designed to provide escorts for discerning women.  Anything’s better than driving an espresso machine. Despite her shattered ego after a disastrous breakup, Sandi decides to try it for a month.

Sadly, the assessments aren’t any more fun than making espresso. The first subject, Jeremy Miller, gets the Aunt Freda special and Sandi manages to send him running for the last train back to the city.  Her second assessment is ruined by an accidental meeting with her ex-fiancé Simon.

Back at the cafe, things get more complicated when Jeremy looks her up wanting a do-over. When Jess says Simon has applied to be an escort, Sandi is forced to explain why she broke off their engagement and why Jess shouldn’t hire him.

The bigger question: why is Jeremy no longer available?

Ghosts of Summers Past by T.E. Hodden

For five years Bunny has never once felt alone. He has been haunted by the tragedy that stole Hanna, his first true love from him, and has always felt her presence on one shoulder, and blame on the other.

Now Alice, a minor star from the show he writes, is on the verge of becoming more than just a friend, and the sun-baked palm beaches are almost feeling like home.

Can Bunny face the ghosts of his past? Or is history about to repeat itself in the most terrible of ways?

Love Unexpected by Sharon Hughson

Grad student Ivory Konner relishes a summer of guiding rafts on the Wenatchee River far from the expectations of her parents and the reminders of her recent dumping. She isn’t looking for romance when a thin guy and his dog nearly send her plummeting off a hiking trail.

Cancer survivor Prescott Colyer drops out of college, escapes to his uncle’s photo gallery in Leavenworth, WA, and quietly pursues his art. But when a collision on a hike exposes him to pain-free physical contact, he risks everything for a girl who’s not interested in romance, not even for the summer.

Once Ivory connects with Prescott’s art, she offers to help him build a business. As they spend time together, her heart takes on its own mission.

Can their unexpected encounter urge Prescott out of isolation? Will Ivory include love in her long-term plan?

Second Chance Summer by Lily Carlyle

Twenty years ago, Summer and Jason’s summer romance seemed destined to last. Until Summer abruptly broke it off, with little explanation. Heartbroken, Jason leaves the Outer Banks—indeed, the entire East Coast—waiting two decades to return. When he comes home to settle his great-aunt’s estate, one of the first people he sees is Summer.

She’s ready to tell him the truth about that summer. But is he ready to listen?

A Sneak Peek Inside

Because this is my blog, and you are my favorite people in all of Readerville, I’m going to give you a glimpse inside this story.

This is from the submitted, unedited manuscript, so no guarantees that it will look precisely the same when you see it in print come August.

From chapter one of “Love Unexpected”:

A dog’s bark echoed from below. The portion of trail Ivory glimpsed seemed clear, but many people had brought their canine friends on the expedition. The deep tone of this bark reminded Ivory of her worst childhood memory, being chased down by a huge dog that bit her calf.

Her heart pounded as the recollection replayed. Or maybe it was from the pace she’d set, because she was practically jogging down the mountain.

The switchback disappeared around a corner of jutting rock and dirt. Ivory’s feet slid on loose pebbles. She threw her hands out for balance, glancing at the sheer edge only inches from her misbehaving hikers. When she glanced up again, a German Shepherd trotted around the bend, nearly slamming into her knees.

“Whoa.”

Her soles scrabbled on the lip of the trail, forward momentum careening her toward the drop. She thrust her shoulder toward the hillside and slammed into the lens of a camera. Pain spiked through her shoulder, but her racing mind screamed about the edge.

She lifted her gaze from the drop off only to headbutt the camera’s owner in the nose. He grunted and arms whipped around her waist. Together, they tumbled against the hillside. His head snapped back and his chin smacked her brow bone.

Ivory threw her hands up to stop another collision, placing them on shoulders barely wider than her own. Her stinging eyes riveted on a face inches away. A pointy chin tilted down and black hair, askew and sporting a dent from a hat, flipped in the wake of the abrupt halt.

Ivory stared into dark eyes, shocked by the striking amber ring around the iris. Something nudged against her legs, pinning her against the stranger. His camera dug into her collar bone.

“Sorry.” The word escaped on a wheezy breath.

“Rem, back up.” His tenor voice coughed out the command.

Ivory flattened her hands on his chest, noting slight definition beneath the breathable fabric. Pressure eased from her legs, but when she tried to inch backwards, her heel met resistance.

The stranger’s mouth puckered and Ivory leaned her head away, heart diving against her breastbone again. A sharp whistle pierced the air, and the block against her feet moved.

Hands rested on her hips, hot even through the layers under her sweatshirt. Ivory slithered backward, sighing once her body was free from the agony of the camera’s press.

“Are you okay?” His eyes stared into hers, the corona of light in their depths snaring her attention. “I should have had Rem heeling.”

Help Spread the News

There will be a blog tour and a release blitz for this title. If you want to get a free advanced copy in exchange for an honest review, that’s also an option.

Click on the button below to fill out the form. Someone from Roane Publishing will get back to you with details and all the information you need.

Who’s ready for summer? ME! And that includes a little (fictional) summer romance, too.

CLANLESS Cover Reveal

 Today Jennifer Jenkins and Month9Books are revealing the cover and first chapter for CLANLESS, book 2 in the NAMELESS Series which releases October 4, 2016! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers to receive a paperback of NAMELESS or an eGalley of CLANLESS!!
Here’s a message from the author:
 
Clanless is Gryphon’s story in the way Nameless was Zo’s. It encompasses the struggle of self discovery and taking the hard road to find happiness. At its heart though, this book is a love story, with two people determined to fight overwhelming odds, even death, to be together. Clanless provides readers a view of the world outside Ram’s Gate, exploring both the Raven and Kodiak Clans in more depth.
I LOVE THIS COVER. I love the way Gryphon is depicted and the symbolism of the white background in contrast to the black of the Nameless cover. I personally think the series only gets better with every book, and I hope readers agree. On to the reveal! 

 

Title: CLANLESS (Nameless #2)
Author: Jennifer Jenkins
Pub. Date: October 4, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback & eBook
Find it: Amazon | B&N | TBD | Goodreads
Striker Gryphon has lost his position of honor among the Ram, and is now a hunted man. A traitor.
Zo, the object of his affection, was murdered by members of his former clan. To honor her memory, he journeys to the highly secretive Raven “Nest” to warn strangers of their impending demise—though it could cost him more than just his pride.
He doesn’t know that Zo is very much alive and in another part of the region assisting Nameless refugees over a mountain swarming with wild men known as “Clanless.”
As each struggle to make sense of what their lives have become, they fight and claw to reach the Allied Camp, their last hope in bringing peace to the region.
But the road back to one another is treacherous and uncertain. And freedom will come with a price.

 

Excerpt

Gryphon never thought he’d die at the hands of the Ram. Of course, he never thought he’d become a traitor to his clan, either.He awaited a likely public execution, sitting in a patch of mud outside the walls of Ram’s Gate, his clan’s stronghold, as rain filtered through the trees overhead. Bristled ropes rubbed raw his bound ankles. Iron manacles secured his wrists behind his back. Gryphon clutched the hidden key to his restraints inside a bloody fist and glared at a man he never thought he’d call an enemy.

Zander, Gryphon’s captain, stood at attention as the rain rolled off his brown hair and banked along the harsh angles of his cheekbones and jaw. He held a seven-foot spear like a walking stick, the blunt end buried in the mud at his feet. His short sword was sheathed at his hip, his round shield slung across his back. The perfect Ram warrior, and one of the best swordsmen Gryphon had ever known.

The fifteen members of his mess sat like stones in a field, unmoving but hard and very present. Most of Gryphon’s former mess, including his best friend, Ajax, kept their backs to him, as if his treason were contagious. Some slept under thick wool blankets that repelled the rain while others stewed with the restlessness that plagued so many warriors.

No one bothered to light a fire. Whether they were too impatient to find something dry enough to burn or felt they deserved the cold, Gryphon didn’t know. Ram were experts at self-discipline—not to be confused with self-control.

Inside Ram’s Gate, Gryphon grew up training every day until his body ached. On days he struggled to do everything his leaders asked of him, he would sentence himself to mountain sprints until he literally passed out from exhaustion. Like every other Ram boy, he willingly walked into scheduled yearly beatings that were meant to train his body to block pain, making him nearly invincible on the battlefield.

A little rain was nothing.

Sitting cross-legged in the mud with his hands chained behind his back, Gryphon let the rain muffle the sound of his struggle to insert the small key into the unseen lock of his manacles. Each metallic scrap wound his nerves that much tighter. His wrists burned from bending at an awkward angle and his shoulders strained as he struggled to keep his face a mask of indifference.

Zander watched him, barely blinking. Gryphon needed to distract him—to break his intent focus.

“Why do you think they haven’t let down the rope ladder?” Gryphon asked, speaking as though his impending execution meant little to him.

Zander’s lip raised in a snarl. “Barnabas has the Raven invasion to prepare for, the gate to repair. He will deal with you in his own time.”

Gryphon adjusted his grip on the key to approach the lock from a different angle.

“It seems Barnabas is content to let you sit out in the cold for the night. Do you think you’ll lose your command over this?” Gryphon raised his chin and smiled.

Zander drew a knife so fast Gryphon fumbled with the key.

“Barnabas ordered you brought back alive, but I don’t think he’d mind if I took out your tongue.”

Gryphon had been trained to use the emotions of his enemies against them. People made mistakes when they weren’t stable. Plus the conversation muffled the sound of the key scraping futilely against the metal lock behind his back.

A few of the heads in the wet camp turned to watch the exchange.

Zander leaned back, battling with his composure. “I might lose my command, but I’ll return to my bunk with our brothers of the mess and rest well after seeing your body hang from a noose.” He shook his head. “I knew you had a strange fascination with that slave—that Wolf. I just didn’t realize your treason extended to all the Nameless inside the Gate.”

Just yesterday, Gryphon had inadvertently helped hundreds of Nameless slaves flee the massive walls of Ram’s Gate. To slow the Ram pursuit, he disabled the only exit—a gate so large it required forty Nameless to open it. Even though only a fraction of the Nameless slaves escaped, it would be days before the chain connecting the gate to the counterweight could be repaired.

The key finally slipped into the lock. Gryphon let his head fall back, just a fraction, and closed his eyes in relief. Zander’s hate-filled gaze greeted him as he opened his eyes, but that didn’t stop him from turning the key. The lock clicked open, the sound lost in the rain.

With one hand free, Gryphon still kept both hands behind his back, though he relaxed his shoulders some to alleviate the ache from being bound. The metal key in Gryphon’s hand was warm. The grooves pressed uncomfortably into his palm, but Gryphon didn’t loosen his hold, refusing to let go of the hope Ajax had given him.

Not only was the key his only chance of escaping the certain death that awaited him inside the giant walls of his clan, but it also represented a dim hope that Zo was still alive. That Ajax—Gryphon’s best friend—hadn’t followed through with Zander’s order to find and kill her and the others after Gryphon’s capture.

The vivid scenes of the morning replayed in Gryphon’s mind again and again. Everyone asleep under the tree, except Zo and Gryphon. Ram circling the perimeter of the giant fir like bloodhounds sniffing out prey. Zo taking his hand, pretending to be brave even though her eyes—they were always so easy to read—proved it a lie. Her warm lips. The feel of her body pressed against his . . .

A shudder that had nothing to do with the cold ran up Gryphon’s back. He’d been captured not far from the tree, trying to lead the Ram away from the people he cared for most.

If only he could ask Ajax if they were alive, though the chances were as likely as staying dry in this storm. Ajax had a family to protect, and the penalty for deceiving his captain was as deadly as deceiving Chief Barnabas himself. Dangerous.

Lightning struck not far away, brightening half of Zander’s face in the fast-approaching darkness.

“Come back to me,” Zo had said, just before she’d leaned into him, touching her soft lips to his.

Gryphon slid the key into the second lock.

He chewed on the inside of his lip until he tasted blood. He fought the urge to spit in Zander’s face, to unlock the chains binding his wrist and strangle him with his bare hands. He was sure he could finish the job before he took a spear to the gut. It felt like the only way to quench the hungry blackness that consumed his insides.

Gryphon hung his head, remembering the promise he made to Zo before they separated. Whether Zo was alive or not, he needed to survive to warn the Raven Clan of an impending attack. Countless lives would be spared if the Raven had time to flee the Nest before the Ram arrived. Getting himself killed wouldn’t serve them, even if it meant an escape from the overwhelming ache in his chest.

Thunder rolled again. Zander stared. Gryphon prayed for a miracle . . . and hoped he deserved one.

He turned the key.

The lock clicked open.

But his manacles clattered to the ground before he could catch them.

***

“We’re not waking him.” Zo’s head throbbed as she held Joshua’s wrist to check his pulse for the tenth time in as many minutes.

The boy lay unconscious, but his heart beat a steady rhythm. Zo needed to feel that pulse; it was her tether to sanity. The sound of Ram fists connecting with Gryphon’s body . . . the muffled grunts betraying his pain . . . they still echoed in her mind when she didn’t check her thoughts. From her hiding place, she hadn’t seen Gryphon’s capture, but she had heard. She’d wanted to run out and fight alongside him. Even though she had Joshua and Tess to think of, her inaction tasted like betrayal.

Rain fell all around them, but they’d managed to stay mostly dry beneath the skirt of a giant fir tree.

“This is insane,” said Eva. She had the long nose of her Ram ancestors, set off by a thin mouth. “Do you have any idea what will happen to us if the Ram come back here?” Eva lay flat on her stomach—all leather and long legs—as she scanned the ground outside their fir tree haven.

Even with a full moon, it was impossible to see far beyond the confines of their shelter. “They have Gryphon. They’ll know you and Joshua are close.” Eva ran her hand over her cropped hair, oblivious to the action. “If I were tracking us, I would have found us hours ago.”

Eva was a Ram, just like the soldiers she feared. She’d fled the Gate with Zo for the sake of her unborn child. A baby who would have been killed at birth because it belonged, not to her betrothed, but to a man in the Ram’s slave class known as the Nameless.

Zo gazed up at the tree trunk, hoping to inhale a bit of patience along with the strong scent of pine. “We wait until Joshua’s ready, Eva. Not a moment sooner.”

“But the Nameless will be miles away by now.”

Zo conceded the point. At that moment, hundreds of escaped slaves traveled to get as far from Ram’s Gate as possible to protect their newfound freedom. They didn’t know how to find the Allied Camp. Zo had told Stone, Eva’s lover and the leader of the Nameless rebellion, it was south of Ram’s Gate, but that was the extent of their knowledge, and it wouldn’t be enough to find the slot canyon that led to the Allies.

The Nameless needed her. So did her little sister Tess, Joshua, and even Eva. None of them would survive without Zo’s ability to lead them to the Allies. But it didn’t change the fact that all Zo wanted to do at the moment was sprint up the mountain to Ram’s Gate—the place from which they’d just escaped—and demand the release of the young man she’d come to care for. The man who’d saved her life and the life of her sister, even though doing so had caused him to lose everything.

Gryphon.

Zo’s little sister, Tess, sat like a watchdog beside Joshua’s head, playing with the boy’s red hair. In the low light, she looked even smaller than her eight years.

“Zo’s smart. She knows what to do,” said Tess. She was blond with dirt smeared across her nose and cheeks. She glared at Eva with her giant blue-green eyes, almost daring her to contradict her big sister.

Zo hugged her knees to her chest, fighting a sudden surge of nausea, hoping Tess was right to trust her so completely.

“Someone’s coming,” Eva hissed. She pushed up onto her knees, wielding two deadly looking knives. At the same time, Zo yanked Tess to the ground and threw herself over her and Joshua’s body. It was a futile effort to save them, but fear took over all rational thought.

Soft footfalls crept outside their shelter, each step marking the final moments of their lives. Zo glanced around for some kind of weapon or stick to help defend the two people—two children—for whom she was responsible. All she found in the darkness was a bed of dry pine needles and her medical satchel—nothing to defend them against fighters from the deadliest clan in the region.

The footsteps came closer, muted by the soggy earth. Eva moved from her knees to the balls of her feet, a compressed spring ready to fly into an attack. She adjusted her grip on her knives.

Hope fled. Zo couldn’t catch her breath. Tess. Joshua. Eva. The Nameless. Dying today under this tree meant the deaths of so many others as well. Gryphon’s sacrifice had been in vain.

Large boots stopped mere feet from Zo’s hiding place. Boots she’d recognize anywhere.

“Don’t,” she cried, trying to stop Eva before she attacked.

But her warning was too late.

Eva sprang, blades in hand, aimed at the intruder’s chest.

 

 

With her degree in History and Secondary Education, Jennifer had every intention of teaching teens to love George Washington and appreciate the finer points of ancient battle stratagem. (Seriously, she’s obsessed with ancient warfare.)
However, life had different plans in store when the writing began. As a proud member of Writers Cubed, and a co-founder of the Teen Author Boot Camp, she feels blessed to be able to fulfill both her ambition to work with teens as well as write Young Adult fiction.
Jennifer has three children who are experts at naming her characters, one loving, supportive husband, a dog with little-man syndrome, and three chickens (of whom she is secretly afraid).
Visit her online at jajenkins.com
 Connect with the Author:  Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Pinterest |Instagram

 

 
1 winner will receive a paperback of NAMELESS, US Only.

3 winners will receive an eGalley of CLANLESS, International.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Cover Reveal: In the Shadow of the Dragon King

 I am thrilled, excited, overjoyed, ecstatic and delighted to show you the cover of J. Keller Ford’s debut novel, IN THE SHADOW OF THE DRAGON KING.

In fact, I was pulled away from my review copy to put this post on my blog. It’s true. I’ll be posting a full review here when the book releases in May.

Ms. Ford is one of my writing associates. If not for her, I don’t know if I would have published my short stories or found the courage to rewrite DOOMSDAY DRAGONS. She is a huge inspiration in my world.

So without further delay, I’ll give you the amazing cover and intriguing sample chapter of this young adult fantasy novel.

Today J. Keller Ford and Month9Books are revealing the cover and first chapter for IN THE SHADOW OF THE DRAGON KING! Book 1 in the Chronicles of Fallhallow Series releases May 31,  2016! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers to receive an eGalley!!

Here’s a short intro from the author!

Hi there! I’m so excited to share this cover with you. I love the stunning blue background with the silver accents, and the dragon medallion totally captures the personality of the book. I knew I wanted the cover to be classic, timeless, yet dark and enchanting, and boy, did the designers deliver! I couldn’t be more thrilled. Thanks so much for stopping by!

 On to the reveal! 

Title: IN THE SHADOW OF THE DRAGON KING (The Chronicles of Fallhallow #1)
Author: J. Keller Ford
Pub. Date: May 31, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback & eBook
Find it: Amazon | B&N| TBD| BAM| Kobo| GooglePlay Books | iBooks|Goodreads

 Seventeen-year-old, Eric, is a kick-butt squire to the most revered knight in Fallhollow. Well he would be if Sir Trogsdill allowed him to do anything even remotely awesome. Determined to prove his worth, Eric sets out to find the mythical paladin summoned to protect the
realm from the evil lurking nearby.
Sixteen-year-old, David, spends his days collecting school honors, winning archery tournaments, and trying not to fall in love with his scrappy best friend, Charlotte.
Right when things start to get interesting, he is whisked away to the magical realm of Fallhollow where everyone thinks he’s some sort of paladin destined to fulfill a two-hundred-year-old prophecy. He’s supposed to help kill a dragon with some sort of magic key. The same key that happens to adorn the neck of an annoying squire who’s too wrapped up in proving himself to be much help to anyone.
With egos as big as the dragon they need to destroy, Eric and David must get over themselves, or watch everything they know and love, burn.
Excerpt

“War is a necessary evil. There is not a day or time when each of us does not battle some sort of enemy either within or around us. The true test of our character lies in the instant when we choose to either ignore or defeat that which seeks to destroy us. It is the same in our kingdom. Hirth has seen its share of battles and this great province has ridden the wings of freedom for many an age; however, there will come a day when an evil so immense will seek to threaten our very existence. It is then the knights of Gyllen Castle will rise to the aid of Hirth and defend all that is dear – our families, our land, and our right to survive. When such a time comes, I will fight with honor and for glory and give my life, if my forfeiture of it will allow Hirth the chance to endure in peace. And while I know that the enemy may prevail and my life be extinguished from this body, my death will not be in vain for what is more honorable than giving one’s life for love of family, country…and freedom.”Sir Trogsdill Domnall.

Chapter 1

If Eric had known what the daylight would bring after the nightmares ended, he would have remained in bed, the covers pulled over his head.

Instead, he waded through the puddles of the castle’s upper courtyard, each gong from the clock tower further coiling his stomach into knots. Sloshing along beside him, down the aisle of topiaries and statues, was his best friend, a devilish lad with unkempt hair the color of dirt and a cock-eyed grin.

“I don’t know why you’re in such a hurry,” Sestian said, polishing an apple on his sleeve. “Weapons class began fifteen minutes ago. Master Mafi won’t allow us in.” The apple crunched in his teeth.

“You don’t understand, Ses. I have to try.” Eric swatted at the spindly arms of a willow tree. “This will be the third day in a row I missed. If I don’t go, word will get back to Trog and he’ll flog me. You know how he gets.”

“You worry too much. He’d never physically hurt you, however, I do have to admit, he is quite an odd fellow. I saw him make another midnight trek to the fountain last night. He sat there all hunched over like he’d lost his best friend, then he stood, dropped a rose in the water, and left.”

Eric’s muscles bunched under his light shirt, his brow pinched. “That is bizarre, even for him.”

“Want to hear something even more bizarre?” Sestian paused, took another bite of the apple and buried the core in a potted plant. “I overheard Trog and my own headache of a master talking this morning. I believe the exact words out of Farnsworth’s mouth were, ‘Fallhollow is under attack’.”

Eric came to a stop, his eyes wide. “Attack? From who?”

Sestian shrugged. “Don’t know, but members of the Senate and the Mage’s High Council arrived an hour ago, including the Supreme Master himself. They’re meeting with the Order as we speak.”

“What?” Eric’s pulse quickened. “Jared’s here? You saw him?”

The grand mage of all magical beings never involved himself in the affairs of men. Ever.

“No, but I plan to change that.” An impish twinkle glistened in Sestian’s eyes. “Are you game?”

“What? You want to—you mean—you’re joking, right?”

The puckish grin on Sestian’s face answered his question.

Eric shook his head. “Oh, no. There is no way you’re going to get me to eavesdrop on a secret council meeting. I’d rather get hit by lightning than suffer the punishment from anyone sitting in that room.”

“Aww, come on, Eric. Must you always be so dull? Aren’t you the least bit curious?”

“That sort of curiosity will land us in the pillory at best.” Eric pushed past his friend through the carved citadel doors. Sestian darted in front of him and stopped.

“Your point?”

“My point is that I value my life.”

“And what of Fallhollow? Don’t you value our home?”

“Of course I do, but—”

“Then what are you waiting for?” Sestian punched Eric’s arm. “Let’s go.”

“Ses, no!” Eric’s protest fell on empty ears. His friend was gone.

Eric brushed past the lapis columns of the marble vestibule into the Great Hall, a wide-open space topped by a domed ceiling so high its ornate detail was almost lost in the darkness. Nobles and servants milled about, coming and going out of the many rooms, laughter echoing off the walls speckled with massive tapestries and oiled paintings. A flock of girls dressed in aristocratic finery stood upon the majestic staircase, twittering like excited canaries. One of them, Lady Emelia, a startling girl with red hair and striking features, waved at him and winked. Eric rolled his eyes and scurried down the hall past the stairs. The last thing he wanted or needed was a flighty girl choking his freedom.

He passed several lavish rooms before spotting his friend at the far end of the music room, leaning on a harp.

“What took you so long?” Sestian grinned, then pushed aside a wall tapestry and vanished through a secret door.

“Drat you, Ses. How do you find these things?” Eric glanced over his shoulder and followed.

Inside, Sestian struck a wooden match against the stone wall and lit a torch he plucked from an iron sconce. They climbed a set of narrow steps. The guttering flame of Sestian’s torch cast shadows on the walls. More than once the passageway twisted and turned as they ascended.

“Are you sure you know where you’re going?” Eric asked.

Sestian laughed. “We’re in the heart of the castle and you’re going to ask that question now?”

They continued upward. After what seemed an eternity, the steps emptied onto the landing of a dark corridor filled with cobwebs. Sestian stopped and thrust the torch at Eric. “Hold this.” He spun a wall sconce in a combination of left and right turns until a latch popped, and a hidden door opened inward, exposing a small room filled with wooden crates.

“What the—?” Eric stepped inside, his mouth open.

Sestian placed his finger to his lips and motioned to a jagged hole the size of a man’s fist in the wall.

Curious, Eric squatted and peered through a banner of delicate silk.

“Dragon’s breath,” he whispered. “That’s the king’s arbitration room!” He flicked a sideways glance at Sestian. “How did you find this?”

“I don’t sleep much, remember?”

“Good heavens, you are crazy.”

A chair scraped across the wood floor below. Four mages, recognizable by their golden skin, turquoise eyes, and sapphire–blue garments, sat on one side of an immense oval table. Four senators clad in similar garments of purple and gold sat across from them. At one head of the table sat Trog and Farnsworth. At the other, a sojourner shrouded in black with silver rings upon his fingers and tattoos etched upon his hands. And at one of the five arched windows stood the sorceress, Slavandria, her thick lavender hair plaited in a single braid to the floor.

“Jared,” Eric said under his breath.

“Yep,” Sestian said. “That’d be my guess.”

Below, Trog leaned forward, his massive hands clasped together, and addressed the cloaked figure opposite him. “We will heed your warnings, Master Jared, and dispatch a legion to His Majesty’s entourage. I also think it wise to notify our neighbors to the north of the encroaching threat. If this enemy’s intentions are to see Hirth fall, he will attack our allies first to render our kingdom helpless.”

“Agreed.” Jared’s voice resonated deep within the chambers, and into Eric’s core. “Master Camden, see to it the kingdoms of Trent and Banning are informed of the possible threat. Also, instruct the shime to dispatch regiments and secure the borders of Hirth.”

“Do you feel that necessary?” replied the bald man clad in blue. “There is no proof the kingdom of Hirth or the realm of Fallhollow, for that matter, is under attack. There have only been a few isolated incidents of bloodshed, nothing that could be construed as acts of war.”

“Master Camden,” Jared said, “several families of barbegazis, nine unicorns, and over a hundred humans are dead all in the course of four days. This morning, patrols rescued a herd of pixies from a crow’s cage in the Elmwithian Marsh. They were swathed in dragon’s blood. Might I remind you a single act of brutality, especially one steeped in black magic as these incidences are, is one violation too many. Our job is to protect this world, and more so this kingdom, from any dark sorcery that may threaten it. If this directive is in any way unclear, I will be more than happy to personally instruct you in the importance of upholding your defensive role.”

A chill crept up Eric’s spine.

“Oh, come on. Instruct him,” Sestian said, a grin stretched across his face.

A palpable silence fell over the room. Master Camden shifted in his seat and wiped the beads of sweat from his forehead. “Personal instruction is not necessary, Supreme Master.”

“I find that to be a wise decision.”

Eric exhaled. “Yes, so do I.”

Jared stood and pulled the hood of his cloak forward. “Since we are in agreement, I believe we can dismiss. Sir Trogsdill, if I may, I’d like to speak with my daughter alone.”

“Of course,” Trog said, standing. “The rest of you, follow me to the dining hall where you can feast before your journey home.”

“I don’t believe this, Sestian whispered as Trog ushered the last of the visitors out and closed the door behind him.

“Shh,” Eric said.

Down below, Slavandria, said “What is on your mind, Father?”

Jared strolled past her, his hands tucked into his voluminous sleeves. “I have given this a great deal of thought and I have reached a decision. Considering all that has happened, I am left with no other choice. As queen of the Southern Forest and protector of this realm, you must summon the paladin.”

Her gasp could have ripped leaves from their stems.

“Father, no! I can’t! The paladin is only to be summoned in the direst of circumstances. While these attacks are horrid, they are far from extreme.”

“Daughter—”

“Father, please. The ramifications will be devastating to all those involved. Together with the shime, we’ll find this enemy and bring him into the light. I beg you. Please do not do this.”

“If that were true, they would have done so by now. As such, your arguing is futile. My decision is made. By sunset within three days, you must fulfill your duties. I will have the document drawn and sealed. Have Mangus deliver it. So it is said?”

Slavandria’s jaw tightened. “You’re being unreasonable.”

“And you are bordering the line of punishment.”

Eric shuddered at the menacing tone.

“Do I have your word?” Jared said.

Slavandria straightened her back and steadied her voice. “Yes, Father. So it is said. So it shall be done, but don’t think for one-minute I won’t improvise when the time presents itself.”

“You have always been my challenge child. I would expect nothing less from you. Now, if you will forgive me, I must go.”

“Where this time?”

“Home, to Felindil for a day. Afterwards, I will be in seclusion, communing with the heavens before taking to the sea.”

“What? And leave me here to set the world right once the paladin arrives?”

Jared’s full-bodied laughter filled the room. “You sound as if the demon of the underworld will rise, spewing fire and ash.”

“And how do you know he won’t?” She paused, her fingers steepled to her lips before continuing. “Father, please. All I ask is for once, in your long, stubborn life, you listen to me. The people of this kingdom and all of Fallhollow are innocent. They need our protection. I fear what the paladin’s presence will do. You can’t bring such devastation upon Fallhollow and then leave me to salvage whatever is left.”

“I bring nothing upon this realm; therefore, I leave you with nothing to clean up. The course of the world is set. Events will unfold as they will. The paladin will not change that which is set in motion.”

“You’re wrong, Father.” Slavandria brushed past him.

“Disagree if you must. You always do. For now, go home. Wait for my summoning papers and prepare the traveler. I will come to you in Chalisdawn three days hence.”

Jared snapped his fingers. White shards of light crackled and zapped around him, and he was gone.

Slavandria shook her head. “You have no idea what you’ve done, Father.” She gathered her cloak from the back of a chair and incanted some strange words. A swift pale-blue mist rose from the floor, swirling, engulfing her in a vortex. The air sizzled and splintered, and she, too, disappeared.

“Whoa,” Sestian said. “This is worse than bad.”

“No kidding,” Eric stood and brushed the dust from his breeches, “and I have a feeling it’s going to get a lot worse.”

Sestian withdrew the torch as they left the room and shut the door. “You do realize we’re going to have to find out who this paladin is, right?”

Eric walked down the steps. “Why is that?”

“Come on. Are you that daft? How else are we going to prove to Trog and Farnsworth that we’re deserving of becoming knights? Right now they think we’re nothing but a pair of imbeciles worthy of nothing more than polishing armor and performing duties of a valet.”

“We’re squires, Ses. That’s what we do.”

“And it’s all we’ll ever do if we don’t prove ourselves. Don’t you get it? When was the last time Gyllen Castle or Hirth saw battle, hmm?”

“You sound as if you want war.”

“No, but I haven’t trained all my life to become a knight only to end up as a fat, lazy, well-paid manservant.”

Eric turned a corner and continued downward, his voice hollow in the muted dark. “I don’t think you’ll ever be fat or lazy.”

“Eric, come on. Why must you be so difficult? Without a skirmish or two, acts of heroism for us are limited to rescuing girls from over-zealous drunkards and protecting the royal dinner from the palace dogs. I want more than that. When I die, I don’t want to be remembered for how well I polished a sword, but for something grand and heroic. Don’t you want the same?”

“Of course I do, but I don’t sit around thinking about what legacy I want to leave behind when I die.”

“Liar. All you ever talk about is how much you want to be a knight like Trog.” Sestian shoved past Eric and blocked his descent. “Think about it. You know as well as I we’ll be relegated to the stables to saddle horses and pack rations and bedrolls if there is the slightest hint of a conflict. They won’t let us anywhere near a battlefield, especially you. It’s like you’re some kind of poster boy for squire school.”

“I know, but—”

“No, there are no buts. Don’t you see? Now is our chance to show our mettle. If we team up with this paladin, we have a chance to prove ourselves. Trog and Farnsworth will have to take notice.”

“Yeah, after they flog, tar and feather us. Besides, what makes you think this paladin will want us, huh? He’s probably some powerful sorcerer like Jared.”

“No one is as powerful as Jared, but I’ll bet you a rooster against a duck this savior dabbles not only in white, but black magic, too. That’s why Jared needs him.”

“Which is all the more reason for us to keep our distance.”

“No! It’s all the more reason for us to find him. He’ll need guides to help him maneuver through our lands. We’ll be heroes for saving Fallhollow from a murderous foe. King Gildore will praise us. Songs will be written about us.”

Eric rolled his eyes.

Sestian snorted. “Don’t think I can’t hear your eyes flipping around in their sockets. You know I’m right. We know every crack in the earth Fallhollow possesses. We’ve been trained by the very best knights in the world. On top of that, I have a knack for getting us in and out of places unseen. You’re extraordinary with a blade. Together, we’re dangerous. We can be his eyes and ears. And when we defeat whatever is out there, Trog and Farnsworth will have no choice but to admit our accomplishments and recommend us for knighthood.”

Sestian’s stance and the set of his eyes conveyed an intensity Eric admired and feared. He sighed aloud. “All right. You win, but we say nothing. If Trog and Farnsworth found out, they’d roll us in dragon dung and set us on fire.”

Sestian punched Eric playfully on the arm and smiled, wide. “Ha! I knew I could break you.”

They hurried from the music room and fell in with other students leaving classrooms. In the sunlit courtyard, Eric stopped short. Sestian plowed into him from behind.

“What’s wrong?”

Eric gritted his teeth. “Do you not see who is standing in front of us?”

Sestian turned his gaze to their masters leaning against the balustrade, their arms folded to their chests, waiting. “Great. Let me handle this.”

Trog stood upright and adjusted the sword on his hip, flexing the intersecting scars on his arms—reminders of dozens of battles fought. He took a step forward, and a gust of wind blew his dark hair back from his weathered, sun-darkened face, exposing a high forehead, square jaw, and intense peridot eyes. Eric gulped as a childhood tale about a sly mouse captured by a blind owl scampered through his brain.

“You’re late,” Trog said, tossing Eric a suede satchel weighed down with sheathed knives. “Where have you been?” He spoke softly, but his voice reverberated through the crisp morning air.

“Listening to Magister Timan’s lecture on ceremonial magic,” Sestian replied. “Did you know there are magical portals that allow us to travel between realms?”

“Did you know I have a magical foot that can disappear up your backside if you don’t get down to the stables right now?” Farnsworth asked. His brow furrowed beneath a curtain of wavy straw-colored hair. He walked toward Sestian, the seams of his green tunic strained over his wide shoulders, his eyes as brown and penetrating as a wolf’s.

“So I’ve heard. Several times.” Sestian grinned and tapped Eric on the arm. “We’ll get together later and go over what we learned today, eh?”

Eric nodded and shuffled his feet under the weight of Trog’s stare. He waited for Sestian and Farnsworth to get far enough away before lifting his head and meeting Trog’s gaze. The knight lifted a brow.

“Are you going to tell me where you really were, or are you going to hold to your story that you were listening to a lecture that ended this time yesterday?”

“Which one will get me in the least amount of trouble?”

Trog placed his hand on Eric’s back and edged him down the stone steps to the lower courtyard. “The truth, Eric. Always the truth.”

“What if I promised not to tell?”

“Secrets are grave burdens to bear.”

“I can’t betray his confidence, sir. I promised.”

Trog nodded. “Then you’ll sleep in the stables tonight as punishment.”

“What? How is that fair?”

“You know the rules as my squire, and you still choose to withhold the truth. Therefore, you shall be punished accordingly.”

“But the rules of knighthood require I not reveal confidences or secrets under any circumstance to anyone at any time, even under pain of death.”

“Nice try, lad, but the last time I looked, you have not been captured nor are you under pain of death.” Trog placed a heavy hand on Eric’s shoulder. “I’m going to give you one more chance. What will it be?”

Eric clenched and unclenched his fists at his sides. “With all due respect, sir, I cannot and will not betray my friend.”

Trog removed his hand. “I commend you on your loyalty, son, but you have made your choice. Therefore, you will suffer the consequences of it. Now go on and get busy with your chores. I want each of those blades in your hand sharpened and polished by morning—”

“But, sir—”

“And for protesting when you should not, you will also sharpen and polish Sir Farnsworth’s blades. I’ll see to it they are dropped off.” Eric opened his mouth to speak, but changed his mind when Trog dipped his brow in warning. “Would you like me to add Sir Gowran’s and Sir Crohn’s weapons to your load?”

Eric bit back the irritation boiling below the surface. “No, sir.”

“Very well. Bring the blades to the farrier’s stall in the morning around eight. It will be a dual-fold meeting as you can visit your father at the same time.”

Trog paused for a moment, his expression thoughtful, then turned and strolled across the courtyard. He hoisted a young page from a game of marbles and lectured him on the pitfalls of wasting time. Eric snorted at the boy’s bewildered expression and the speed at which he ran once set down upon his feet. Been there, boy. He cursed beneath his breath. What am I talking about? I’m still there.

Eric’s boots clicked on the cobblestones as he plodded toward Crafter’s Row. He passed beneath the archway connecting the cathedral to the knights’ quarters and turned left down the tree-shaded lane toward the royal stables. After informing the stablemaster of his upcoming sleeping arrangements, Eric returned the way he came. At the crossroad, he turned and made his way toward the smithy. Horses clomped and wagons rattled over the pavers while thick clouds gathered overhead, suffocating the sun. A light drizzle set in as he entered a stone building marked by a metal plate engraved with a hammer and anvil. The blacksmith wiped the sweat from his brow and motioned Eric to a table set with vials of oils, and various whetstones.

Eric sighed. Lovely.

He settled into the monotonous task of sharpening and polishing, taking on Farnsworth’s load a few hours later. He finished his arduous task just after dusk. Cursing his sore muscles, he packed up the satchels and shuffled to the stables where a plate of bread, cheese and a pint of goat’s milk waited for him.

Great. Is he trying to starve me, too?

He ate what was given and settled into the hayloft, his stomach a knot of protests. He sighed. Who was this paladin, and from who or what was he destined to save the realm? There was only one way to find out. Tomorrow he and Sestian would devise a plan, and it would be worthy of a knight’s tale. When all was said and done, Trog would have no other choice than to see him as a worthy knight instead of an incompetent fool. An image of Trog groveling for forgiveness appeared in his mind. Eric snuggled into a bed of hay and fell into a blissful dream, a wide grin on his face.

 

About J. Keller Ford: 
J. (Jenny) Keller Ford grew up as an Army brat, traveling the world and wandering the halls of some of Germany’s
most extraordinary castles. From the time she was old enough to hold a crayon, she wove fantasy tales of dragons, warriors, and princesses.  A former paralegal, she’s the author of several short stories including The Amulet of Ormisez, Dragon Flight, and The

Passing of Millie Hudson.  When not at 
her keyboard breathing new life into fantasy worlds, Jenny spends time
overloading on coffee, collecting seashells, bowling, swimming, riding roller coasters and talking plot-lines with anyone who will listen.  She lives on the west coast of Florida with her husband, two sons, two dogs, and a pretentious orange cat.  Her two daughters and grand-daughter make their homes in Seattle, WA.
Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest | Goodreads

Giveaway Details:  1 winner will receive an eGalley of IN THE SHADOW OF THE DRAGON KING. International.

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GENESIS GIRL, COVER REVEAL

Now that I’m officially part of the Month9Books stable of authors, I’ll be sharing the covers and deals of books that I think might interest my audience. Genesis Girl is a sci-fi dystopian book for young adult to new adult readers.

A quick note from the author:

Jennifer Bardsley, author
“The first time I saw the cover to Genesis Girl I got chills. Genesis Girl is a psychological, Sci-Fi thriller, and the blood-red cover conveys that perfectly.”–Jennifer Bardsley

 

Fifty years ago cell phones unleashed a Brain Cancer Epidemic. Terrified by technology, worried parents entrusted their children to a charismatic leader. Barbelo promised to keep his Vestals safe from the Internet, hidden behind lead-lined walls.

Now, digital purity is valuable and a Vestal named Blanca is auctioned off to the highest bidder. Blanca is the most obedient eighteen-year-old her purchasers have ever met. She is a blank slate for the genesis of anything they want.

But too bad for Blanca. Their new beginning could be her end.

 On to the reveal!GenesisGirl_1800x2700

 

Title: GENESIS GIRL

Author: Jennifer Bardsley

Pub. Date: September 27, 2016

Publisher: Month9Books

Format: Hardcover, Paperback, & eBook

Find it: Amazon | Goodreads

Eighteen-year-old Blanca has lived a sheltered life. Her entire childhood has been spent at Tabula Rasa School where she’s been protected from the Internet.

Blanca has never been online and doesn’t even know how to text. Her lack of a virtual footprint makes her extremely valuable, and upon graduation, Blanca and those like her are sold to the highest bidders.

Blanca is purchased by Cal McNeal, who uses her to achieve personal gain. But the McNeals are soon horrified by just how obedient and non-defiant Blanca is. All those mind-numbing years locked away from society have made her mind almost impenetrable.

By the time Blanca is ready to think for herself, she is trapped. Her only chance of escape is to go online.

 Read on for an excerpt from the first chapter!

 Chapter One

My boot hits him in the nuts at the same time as the flash goes off, but it’s too late. The Virus has already taken my picture. He was aiming for Fatima, but I pushed her away just in time. I sideswipe his legs and topple the Virus over while he moans in agony from my kick to his groin.

“Nobody takes my picture, you freak!” I stare at his tattooed face. There’s something familiar about the snake inked around his eyebrow, but I can’t quite place it. We’re in the underground parking garage at school, and the fluorescent lights shade everything ugly. I crouch down and flip the Virus onto his stomach, bashing his nose against the pavement.

Ever since I was little, teachers have warned me about Viruses. They’re paparazzi scumbags whose sole purpose in life is to destroy privacy and expose secrets. I’ve never seen one in person until today.

“Hand me your belt,” I tell Fatima. I hold the Virus in place by grinding my knee into his back while Fatima slips off the cinch from her black spandex uniform. I wrestle the man’s arms behind me with both hands. Surprise, surprise—security doesn’t show up until I’m already hog-tying the bastard.

“You’re not so special now, Vestal!” the Virus says as they haul him off.

He’s right.

Until about two minutes ago, I was a Vestal postulant. A blank slate. An Internet virgin. There were no images of my moniker floating around cyberspace. My parents had never blogged about my every poop. It had been planned that way from the beginning. They had castrated my virtual identity for the promise of a better life.

In one week I’m graduating from Tabula Rasa. Today was my chance to shine while I’m interviewed by companies. Only nobody will want me now.

With one flash of his thumb camera, that jerk destroyed my life.

“Don’t worry,” Fatima says, helping me to my feet. “You’ve still got a face that can sell soap. I knew it the first time I saw you. Your skin’s your best feature, and that hasn’t changed.”

The sound of the security gate opening drowns Fatima out. We watch as a white car enters the Tabula Rasa garage. A flash of sunlight taunts me before the gate closes. All my life I’ve lived in this twenty-story fortress of protection. Today was going to be my first day in sunshine, being interviewed by bidders.

But that Virus ruined it all. How the hell he snuck in, I’ll never know.

“You’re the girl next door,” Fatima says, a bit louder. “Couture might not want you, but the average American will.”

I nod because I’ve heard it all before. Not everyone can be the seductress. I’ll never be like Fatima, I don’t begrudge her that. A clear face, green eyes, and brown hair are what I have to work with, and that’s fine. But there’s no fixing a picture of me on the Internet.

“It’ll be okay, Blanca,” Fatima says again.

But we both know that isn’t true.

For a Vestal, a clear Internet history is the most important thing. Without that I’m nothing. Our elusive privacy is what makes us valuable.

I’ve watched our class shrink from two hundred eager postulants to a graduating group of ten. The infractions were usually unavoidable: their memory was spotty, their temperament was bad, or worst of all, they turned out ugly. But once in a while, somebody was thrown out because of an online transgression.

Everyone left is bankable. Ten perfect human specimens who could sell you anything.

Even Ethan, with his poufy hair and scrawny build, is a sure thing. He wears glasses now despite his perfect vision, and goes around in bow ties and suspenders. “Nerdy but in a good way,” the teachers say. “This one’s going high-tech.”

Beau can write his own ticket too. He’s six feet tall and can out bench-press every other guy in the group. America will drool.

And then there’s Fatima standing next to me. With her dark eyes and svelte figure, she’ll have her choice of any fashion house.

I had been hoping to sell cosmetics. That’s prestigious too, and I really had a chance. But nobody will bid on me now. The auction is a week away, and I’m ruined!

“Blanca?” A woman approaches us right as a dark black limousine pulls through the gate. “That car isn’t for you. Good luck with your interviews, Fatima.”

Fatima waves at me sadly and slides into the vehicle.

“Let’s get this disaster under control,” says the woman as the limo drives away. Her billowing skirt makes her look ethereal in the shadows of the parking garage. I have never seen her before. But she’s wearing white like our teachers and has a platinum cuff, so of course, I follow her.

She takes me to a room on the twentieth floor of Tabula Rasa that boasts a wall of windows. “Darkened for privacy,” says the woman when she sees my apprehension.

I approach them hesitantly, unaccustomed to the glass. I see a tiny patch of sky surrounded by glowing billboards. On every rooftop is an advertisement featuring a face I already know. Vestals stare down at me from all vantage point, hawking perfumes, cars, and weight-loss supplements.

“You’ll be up there too, Blanca. There’s still hope.” The woman stands at my elbow.

I peek and study her this time. She’s fortyish with blue eyes and a heart-shaped face. I know she’s a Vestal because of her white outfit, but I don’t recognize her.

Weird. I know all the Vestals. Everyone does.

The hydraulic doors hiss open, and we both turn to look. The Tabula Rasa headmaster enters in a swirl of white cloak.

“Blanca,” he says, “you have a problem.”

“Yes, Headmaster Russell. I’m sorry, Headmaster Russell.”

“I don’t know how you let this happen.” He strides to the enormous windows, holding a manila file folder. None of the Tabula Rasa faculty are permitted computers, including Headmaster Russell.

“You mean you don’t know how you let this happen, Russell.”

I brace for impact. Nobody talks to Headmaster Russell that way and gets away with it. I know that better than anyone. He grits his teeth. “Security is being questioned as we speak. Sit down, Ms. Lydia. Please.”

“I will not sit down.” Ms. Lydia’s stare could cut glass. “Not until you apologize to Blanca. She deserves better, and you know it.”

There is audible silence. Headmaster Russell rubs the golden cuff on his wrist. “Blanca, I’m sorry that this happened to you.” His eyes don’t meet mine.

Ms. Lydia snaps her fingers.

Headmaster Russell clears his throat and tries again, this time meeting my gaze. “I’m sorry that I let this happen to you. I should have protected you better. I will do everything in my power to make sure you are still harvested at the auction.” Then he turns to Ms. Lydia who stands resolute and icy. “Are you satisfied?”

“Perhaps.” She shrugs. “Let’s see what’s in the folder.”

A few moments later we are seated at the table in the center of the room. Headmaster Russell shows us the picture of me that is now plastered all over cyberspace. I fight back tears.

first look at newest vestal, the caption reads. Then there’s me executing a roundhouse kick, my hair flying back, and my face a perfect mask of rage.

“This is what we are dealing with,” says Headmaster Russell.

“It could be worse.” Ms. Lydia presses her lips together. Right then an old-fashioned phone hanging on the wall rings. “Well, Russ? Aren’t you going to answer that?”

Headmaster Russell jumps to answer the phone. I can hear him say “Blanca” and “photograph,” but that’s it. My future is muffled as he whispers into the receiver.

Ms. Lydia extends her hand to me. Her touch is very cold, but her shake is firm. “My name is Lydia. I’m the elected agent of all Vestal graduates. I lead the Tabula Rasa board of directors.”

“What was your company?” I ask. I still don’t recognize her. But I notice her platinum cuff. That means she was top pick.

“I didn’t have a company. I went Geisha.”

I try to keep my face blank. Really, I do. But what she said is so shocking that my eyes widen for an instant. Ms. Lydia notices.

“It’s not as bad as you think,” she says. “Maybe it’s better. There are many ways to be a Vestal, and they all have honor.”

“Of course,” I answer. “It says so right in the Vestal Code of Ethics.”

Most Vestals leave Tabula Rasa with major corporations, but on rare occasions they enter contracts with private individuals as Geishas.

Nobody wants to go Geisha. Giving up privacy for another person’s pleasure is creepy. Selling out to a company is so much better.

Headmaster Russell hangs up the phone with a loud click. He smoothes his cloak over his barrel chest. “Blanca has five bidders,” he says. “That picture has whipped up a frenzy.”

“Good,” says Ms. Lydia. “You’re redeemed.”

I’m not sure who she’s talking to, but I brave a smile anyway.

What do you think, readers? Will you be adding this book to your TBR list?